Given the vast geographical area, ecological-cultural diversity, and deep-rooted social stratification, spatial inequality is one of the important features of poverty in India. Besides inter-regional variations, there also exist a large number of spatial poverty traps characterised by four major categories of regions, viz., remote, low potential or marginal, less favoured, and weakly integrated. In fact, there is often a significant overlap among these categories of spatial poverty traps. The multiple and mutually reinforcing disadvantages or deprivation faced by most of the spatial poverty traps has led to reproduction of poverty as manifested by the fact that incidence of poverty in these regions continue to remain significantly high in terms of absolute levels as well as comparative ranking.
By and large, these areas, located mainly in central-eastern regions, are: a) forest based economies with limited entitlements to the relatively rich natural resources; b) belong to socially marginalized communities such as scheduled tribes and castes; c) low level of industrial growth and market development; d) lower health and educational status along with higher population growth; and above all, e) feudal characteristics of the state. This kind of spatial concentration of poverty is also found in other states, especially in Maharashtra and Gujarat, which are highly industrialized and economically developed.
The state policies in India have a long history of addressing the issue of developing `backward areas’, defined by using multiple categorizations. However, these policies, have achieved only limited success, as the central focus of the policies has been on `mainstreaming’ these areas into the larger processes of economic development instead of addressing the very root cause of poverty and reproduction thereof. The recent initiatives by the Planning Commission of India for giving special priorities to the most backward and also conflict afflicted districts in the country, though laudable, seems to be following the same pattern. The need therefore is to re-examine the policies of economic development both at macro as well as micro levels.
In this context, the paper examines the spatial pattern of poverty in India and tries to understand how multiple deprivation leads to reproduction of poverty especially in forest-based economies in the central-eastern parts of the country. This has been attempted in the light of a case study of four villages in Koraput district in Orissa, India.
The analysis indicated spatial concentration of poverty among seven out of the 17 major states, accounting for nearly 78-80 per cent of rural poor in India. It also indicated that 15 regions had remained in the list of the poorest regions over three points of time during 1983 to 1999-00.
The finding that the predominance of forest based areas with high concentration of poverty over a long period of time calls for detailed probing into the extent, pattern, and policy support for ameliorating poverty in these regions. The paper brings out some important policy implications for redressing the situation of chronic poverty in such regions.
The analysis of chronic poverty in a forest-based region in southern Orissa reinstates the fact that chronic poverty in terms of severity and long duration is an overarching reality for almost nine out of ten households in the region. Similarly, it highlights severe deprivation in terms of food consumption, with a significantly large proportion of households consuming about half of the prescribed norm of cereal in-take. Finally, the paper brings out the need for generating a better understanding of the dynamics of forest and development, which would facilitate a shift in the policy perspective for poverty reduction in the state.